Yesterday, three men working at a Queens recycling plant died when they were trapped in a sewage hole that was full of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. The NY Times reports the men, including a father and son, were "overcome by toxic fumes Monday afternoon and died, apparently falling one after another into the Stygian gloom of a putrid, manhole-size, 18-foot-deep well they were trying to vacuum."
The incident occurred at Royal Waste Services on Douglas Avenue in Jamaica. It's believed that subcontractor Harel Dahan, 23, was first struck by the toxic fumes, falling into a hole that he and father Shlomo, 49, were cleaning; Post says the "filthy pit" had "four feet of detritus, including garbage, oil and runoff, in the hole -- which measures 3 feet in diameter by 18 feet deep -- at the time of the accident." (The Dahans were hired by Royal Waste.) Shlomo Dahan then tried to help his son, by lowering a ladder, but then he was overcome. Then, Royal Waste employee Francisco Rivas approached to help; the Daily News explains, "When [Shlomo Dahan] failed to emerge or respond to cries of co-workers...Rivas, 52, climbed down the hole and was overcome, too, cops said."
The FDNY sent a firefighter wearing breathing gear into the hole to retrieve the bodies; FDNY deputy assistant fire chief John Sudnik said, "They found all three faced down [in the water]. That kind of atmosphere is very toxic." According to the FDNY, the hydrogen sulfide in the hole was 200 parts per million; at 50 parts per million, 10 minutes would be fatal. Royal Waste Services was previously cited by OSHA for violations earlier this year and in 2005, a worker was killed when a tractor backed over him.
The Post and Daily News have images of bereft family members at the plant, being comforted by other workers. Rivas' son said, "They told me it was an accident, that he saw two men fall into the hole, and he jumped in to try and help them. He was always like that, always helping people. He was a good person."